HARLINGEN, RGV – State Rep. René Oliveira is the dean of the Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation and the fifth longest-serving representative in the Texas House.

The Brownsville Democrat has seen a lot of pieces of legislation filed in the 31 years he has served as a state lawmaker. He says he is sad to report he is now, as a member of the Committee on State Affairs, having to deal with one of the worst bills he has come across.

“Senate Bill 4 is one of the worst pieces of legislation, one of the most disgusting things I have ever had to deal with,” Oliveira said.

“I think the legislation has a racist theme. I don’t think the author is racist, but I think that’s what it’s about. We’ve heard of the phrase ‘driving while black,’ well now it’s going to be ‘driving while brown.’

State Rep. René Oliveira

“So, if you are just speeding, or don’t have your insurance sticker or your documents for your car or have a broken tail-light, you are going to get stopped, the officers are going to make the inquiry, and you are going to get taken down to jail and turned over to ICE.

“We are all immigrants in one form or another and to single out particularly dark skinned people because that is what is going to happen. How many blue eyed blonde hair people are going to be stopped? It’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen?”

SB 4, otherwise known as the “anti-sanctuary cities” bill, is authored by state Sen. Charles Perry of Lubbock. The bill seeks to turn police officers and sheriff’s deputies into immigration law enforcers. As originally written, the bill would charge local officials who do not comply with federal immigration authorities with a crime, and assess financial penalties for those cities or counties that do not require their law enforcement officers to notify Immigration & Customs Enforcement that a detainee does not have residency papers. Anti-sanctuary cities legislation has been deemed a legislative priority by Governor Greg Abbott.

“The bill says law enforcement may, not shall. However, I can’t think of one police chief or sheriff who is going to take that risk and subject themselves to a crime. Because, under SB 4, not contacting ICE, it’s a crime, it’s a class A misdemeanor. It’s official misconduct which costs you your job. If you’re a sheriff or a police chief, you can’t have that on your record. So, it might as well be a shall. Everybody is going to want to do this to avoid the massive fines and the potential criminal penalty for not enforcing immigration law,” Oliveira said.

“Also, this bill is going to impact people who have been here for many, many years. It will impact Dream Act children. Everyone is going to be subjected to this so it’s just wrong,” Oliveira said. “A lot of these people are also caught in their immigration status and are trying to adjust it. So, if you don’t have that proof, you are going to be deported without a hearing. That’s unconstitutional. There needs to be some judicial and due process involved in this. It’s a very horrible piece of legislature, one of the worst I have ever seen in my 33 years in the legislature.”

Oliveira sat through a marathon hearing on SB4 last week. Over 500 witnesses signed up to testify, mostly against. The testimony went on for ten hours.

“It was a very long, hard, emotional day. The testimony and the anxiety among immigrants and families that have an immigrant or an undocumented person was palpable. We saw the anxiety of children who testified, worried about their mother or father being deported. It was extremely touching,” Oliveira said.

“In fact, the legislation is a solution in search of a problem. Right now, all 254 counties and every police department that we know of is cooperating with ICE putting detainers on anybody who is accused of a crime. In fact, the numbers are up on the number of detainers and arrest of criminal aliens.”

Oliveira said everyone wants to see criminal aliens prosecuted. “Particularly the ones that are committing violent crimes. Nobody wants to protect them. We don’t want to see mass deportation and that’s what some people are trying to do here (with this legislation). To really have mass deportation and tear families apart.”

Oliveira said he was disappointed that few people from the Valley came to the Capitol to testify against SB 4. However, he did recognize that undocumented immigrants could not get passed the checkpoints at Sarita and Falfurrias. He said he wished more law enforcement officials from the Valley has attended and spoken out against SB 4.

“There were one or two people from the Valley that came up but frankly I was disappointed that we didn’t hear from Valley elected officials or Valley law enforcement. The sheriffs and police that came were from Austin, San Antonio, and El Paso and they gave very effective testimonies. All of them condemned the bill, they begged for the state of Texas to not tell them how to do their job and to let them do the job they are paid to do,” Oliveira said.

“We don’t want to turn them into ICE agents, they are not qualified to do that. They don’t know anything about the 165 different types of visas that exist, they are not even trained for this kind of work.”

Oliveira said he was particularly moved by three citizen children who testified.

“They were 13, 9, and 7. Every day go home wondering if their dad is going to be there. Their Dad starts work at 5 in the morning and doesn’t come home until 6 at night and they wonder and worry every night if he is going to be there to take care of them.”

Oliveira said SB 4 ties in with some horrendous policies President Trump is pursuing.

“What Trump has said is, he is going to be deporting parents and the citizen children will have to be housed wherever they can be. That’s not humane, that’s not Christian and is not even good policy. The vast super majority of people that are here without documents are good people just trying to do work and be part of our community and they do not deserve to be treated like dogs and deported like dogs.”

Oliveira said he appreciated all the law enforcement officials who in their testimony said the legislation will make communities less safe, not more.

“There will be less cooperation with law enforcement, with people not wanting to work with them. The police have spent decades trying to build relationships with the immigrant community so that they do not feel threatened. All of that goes out the window now.
I think this policy definitely is un-American. It violates multiple provisions of the constitution.”

Another problem, Oliveira said, is that SB 4 is going to end up costing local taxpayers more.

“We are going to have to house and feed these people in prisons and jails and we can’t afford that. The federal government needs to do its job and leave the states out of it. There is no sanctuary city, there is no sanctuary campus, there is no sanctuary county. Nobody is giving help other than churches and groups who are trying to take care of refugees who are facing death if they go home.”

Oliveira elaborated on this point.

“I want our police and our sheriffs and our constables and law enforcement to focus on keeping me and my family safe, my constituents safe, not on chasing down some poor guy who is trying to raise his citizen children here and do the right thing. I think the Valley needs to wake up and understand this because almost all of us have one family member who didn’t have their documents at some point.”

Rather than focusing on legislation like SB4, Texas and the United States should be finding a way to give undocumented immigrants a pathway to legal status here, Oliveira argued. “Give them a chance to work. Let’s keep the good people here, and get rid of the bad ones.”

The interview with Oliveira took place at Valley International Airport as he returned from another week of legislating in Austin. He said from his conversations with leaders in his community, the impact of President Trump’s directives to the Department of Homeland Security were already having a chilling effect.

“We are already seeing an incredible chilling effect. People are not coming forward if they witness something because they know now they could be exposed and could be deported. Women are not coming in to testify or report their spouse for family violence. Right now, many women are beaten but the husband or boyfriend says ‘go ahead, turn me in, you are the one that is going to be taken back to Mexico.’

“I was giving a story yesterday that in front of the Brownsville community health clinic there’s a Border Patrol truck. The Border Patrol agents wanted to come in and ask questions of people and the clinic refused them.”


  1. Thanks for the story. Probably would have been a little more balanced if you had interviewed someone from the other side of the issue instead of giving our state rep an entire platform to grandstand on. Being from the valley, I totally agree that the culture being created around the immigration and sanctuary cities is ugly and could have been handled with so much more dignity and humanity. We love our neighbors to the south, however, we do expect them to uphold and respect our laws. I don’t think that police officers and sheriffs should have to become the front line enforcers of immigration, nor should they have to reach out to ICE. But if ICE tells them to hold someone until they can get there, they would be well advised to comply.

    I would like to ask our state rep Oliveira what legislation he has authored or signed in the last 31 years that could have helped to prevent the Trump backlash we are now seeing. What piece of legislation, what initiative, what effort did he pursue to help curb illegal immigration? I would like to see a follow up article on that!